In 2020 both the Producers Guild of America Awards and the Directors Guild of America Awards feted Sam Mendes‘ “1917” but it fell short in both races at the Oscars. “Parasite” won Best Picture and Boon Jong Ho claimed Best Director (and shared in the Best Original Screenplay award) for this Korean drama. That was a rare misstep for these precursor prizes. (Here are this year’s PGA Awards nominees and DGA Awards nominees.)
While the two guilds were in sync in 2020, which one should we listen to when they differ? The PGA uses the same method of voting, the preferential ballot, that the academy adopted for its top award when it expanded the Best Picture roster in 2010. The DGA winner is determined by a simple plurality.
Since the Producers Guild of America started giving out prizes 31 years ago, its pick for best pic has gone on to take home the top prize at the Academy Awards a whopping 21 times; the most recent double dipper was “Green Book” in 2019. But while that film’s helmer Peter Farrelly contended at the Directors Guild of America, he was snubbed by the directors branch of the academy. Alfonso Cuaron won with both the DGA and Oscars for his helming of “Roma.”
The first six PGA winners of this bigger field of 10 contenders went on to repeat at the Oscars. (The PGA went with “The Big Short” in 2016 while the academy favored “Spotlight” while in 2017 the guild embraced “La La Land” while the Oscar went, eventually, to “Moonlight.”) It aligned again with “The Shape of Water” and “Green Book.”
In the past 31 years, the DGA has tapped 21 helmers who could brag that they had directed the Best Picture winner. The last of these was Guillermo del Toro in 2018 for “The Shape of Water.”
In the 11 years since the Best Picture ballot doubled in size, the DGA has tapped nine helmers who went on to win Oscars themselves. Five of them were able to boast that they directed the Best Picture winner to boot. One of the two guild winners who did not repeat at the Oscars was Mendes. The other was Ben Affleck who was snubbed by the directors branch of the academy. However his film, “Argo,” did win Best Picture at the Oscars (as it had at the PGA).
Aside from 2020, there are three other recent instances where the DGA was off as a bellwether for Best Picture. In 2014, Cuaron won for “Gravity” but the Best Picture Oscar went to “12 Years a Slave,” which had tied with it at the PGA. While the PGA had pointed the way in that instance, it was of no help in predicting the Best Picture winner in the other two years when the DGA got it wrong.
In 2016, “The Big Short” won at the PGA, Alejandro G. Inarritu won at both the DGA and Oscars for “The Revenant” but “Spotlight,” which had won Best Ensemble at SAG, was named Best Picture. And in 2017, Damien Chazelle took home both the DGA and Academy Award for directing but his film lost, eventually, to “Moonlight.” The SAG ensemble winner that year was “Hidden Figures.”
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